Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Pro-pain culture?

A few weeks ago I read a two-sided article regarding the validity of competitive cheerleading as a sport. The pro-sport author contended that cheerleading was a sport because the participants suffered injury and still had to perform, just like other athletes.

I kid you not.

In essence, sport was defined by its propensity toward harm. Hmm. I used to think that sports were touted as healthy activity. Humility strikes again.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there are musicians with the same mindset. I do know that the technical demands of music have increased considerably in the last 50 years. Eckart Altenm├╝ller, musician, physician and highly regarded specialist in the medical problems of musicians, lists this as one of the major reasons for the increase in focal dystonias among musicians. (Music, Motor Control and the Brain, published byOxford University Press) Our challenges are simply harder than they were in the past, and we work harder to meet them.

Does that mean we should expect - even glorify – potential pain and suffering that comes from music making?

Unlike professional athletes, musicians rarely get sophisticated physical training as part of our development. We also don’t get paid if we’re placed on the injured list. Lots of us may not have any kind of health insurance at all. Others are, to quote the old song, “playin’ real good for free”.

Fortunately, there are groups like the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA),
“an organization comprised of dedicated medical professionals, artists, educators, and administrators with the common goal of improving the health care of the performing artist.”

And Andover Educators ™, “a not for profit membership organization of music educators committed to saving, securing, and enhancing musical careers by providing accurate information about the body in movement.”

There is also a stronger movement toward integrating what sports medicine specialists have learned with the requirements of the performing arts. The new president of PAMA is Dr. George Shybut, whose history includes work with professional athletes and musicians. Another example of training cross-pollination can be found at the website

However, none of this developing interplay does a service if the participants are cheering for pain.